Missouri Puts School Nickname on Arena

Friday, November 26th 2004, 6:41 pm

By: News On 6

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) _ The University of Missouri renamed its new sports arena Friday after the original namesake, a 22-year-old Wal-Mart heiress, was accused of cheating her way through another college.

The university's governing Board of Curators voted without dissent to use the name Mizzou Arena instead of Paige Sports Arena during a three-minute conference call.

``All of us are happy with Mizzou,'' Elson Floyd, president of the four-campus university system, said of the common nickname for the school. ``How can you go wrong when you talk about Mizzou?''

Elizabeth Paige Laurie's billionaire parents agreed earlier this week to give up their naming rights to the $75 million basketball venue, which was built with a $25 million donation from the Lauries and opened three weeks ago.

The move comes months after Bill and Nancy Laurie had angered Missouri fans, students and alumni by announcing their plan to name the arena after their daughter, who did not attend Missouri. Nancy Laurie is the daughter of the late Bud Walton, co-founder of Wal-Mart.

Then, last week, Paige Laurie's freshman roommate at the University of Southern California, Elena Martinez, said in an interview on ABC's ``20/20'' that Laurie paid her about $20,000 over 3 1/2 years to write papers and complete other assignments for her.

The Laurie family has said Paige Laurie's college record is a private matter.

The family did not return a message left at their Columbia home Friday, and the office of their company, Paige Sports Entertainment, which owns the NHL's St. Louis Blues, was closed for the holiday.

Paige Laurie has declined repeated requests for interviews since the announcement in March that the arena was being named for her.

The Lauries' connections to the school run deep. One of Paige Laurie's cousins, Spencer Laurie, plays for the men's basketball team, and another cousin is a former player. The family has also endowed the E. Paige Laurie Professorship for the Equine Center at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and provided funding to build the Columbia Performing Arts Center.

Curator Don Walsworth, a friend of the Lauries, said the prompt action ``brings closure to the university and to a very fine family.''

Mark Ziegler, co-president of the Seattle alumni chapter and an outspoken critic of the Paige name, said Friday that the curators should have named the building after former basketball coach Norm Stewart, whose name is on its basketball court.

``I think it's the obvious choice of a vast majority of fans and residents, who, after all, are paying for more than half of this arena,'' said Ziegler.

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